“Revenge is a dish best served cold”- Old Klingon Proverb (quoted in “Kill Bill, Vol. I)
There’s a widely held myth around the sports world that following the Patriots isn’t a lot of fun. That the Pats are too tightly controlled, too bland, too team oriented … and therefore, too uncharismatic to be as much fun as the more colorful teams. And while I don’t agree with it, I guess I can sort of see where they’re coming from.
The Patriots are generally perceived as a despotic, tightly-controlled and secretive empire controlled by a mysterious messiah figure. Which actually sounds about right to me. And no one thinks empires like that are a good time. I mean, no one ever wanted to book a vacation on the Death Star, and it wasn’t just a lousy safety rating. No employee at SPECTRE ever seemed like they were looking forward to the work holiday party to see if Blofeld would get drunk and launch nukes out of the silo or something. When it comes to having fun and keeping it loose, powerful regimes aren’t exactly Dunder-Mifflin.
But that perception is wrong. Dead wrong. Because being part of an evil empire like the Patriots you get to do something the good guys never get to do: collect enemies. And one of most rewarding things about being a Pats fan in the 21st century is that we’ve collected way, way more than our share of sworn blood enemies.
And this week, the reason I’m so excited I just can’t hide it, is that the Pats get to cross paths once again with arguably their most vile and detested adversary: Eric Mangini.
For all the enemies that Bill Belichick — and, by extension, his team — have made through an era of unprecedented success, Mangini is probably the bitterest of them all. The dynasty Pats have collected a legion of players, owners and coaches who’ve felt like they’ve been robbed, humiliated, cheated or who are just plain sick of watching New England win and would like them to go the way of the 49ers. (Pro tip: Don’t hold your breath.)
But Mangini is in a class all by himself. Eric Mangini is a traitor.
Over the last ten years, dozens ... scores ... of Belichick’s proteges have left Foxboro to try to make it on their own without him. An acorn can’t fall off The Hooded One coaching tree without some hapless owner sticking it up on a podium and introducing it as the NFL’s next Super Bowl-winning oak.
But Mangini stands alone as the only one who blew the bridge on his way out of town. To this day I’ve never known exactly why. One assumes li’l Eric broke some promise or tried to pilfer staff or stole Belichick’s Swingline and wouldn’t give it back.
Whatever the reason, once Mangini went to the Jets in 2006, things got ugly, and they got ugly faster than Four Loko Night on “Rock of Love.” That weird little subsection of the population who study postgame coaches’ handshakes were covering their eyes at the deplorable lack of affection Belichick showed. Neither guy gave us to go on as to why the chilly reception. But the oil burner continued to kick on every time the name of the HC of the NYJs was brought up.
Of course it was during this time the New York papers went into their usual over-the-top, honeymoon phase shameless fawning like they do with every coach in town until they decide the time is right to eviscerate him. During that ‘06 season, they dubbed him “Mangenius,” like they were the student newspaper in some podunk football factory college town. He even got himself an endorsement deal doing Razor phone commercials, which was perfect when you look back. Because both were the trendy, gimmicky, shiny new toy everyone wanted. And because in a few months everyone realized they suck and wanted to throw them out. The only difference I can see is the Razor was skinny. Sh-POW!
But any doubt that some sort of betrayal had taken place when Mangini left became moot on Week 1 of 2007, because that’s when SpyGate happened. The Patriots were “caught” pointing a camera in the general direction of the Jets’ sidelines, a practice conducted routinely by 32 teams in the NFL, including every stop along Mangini’s career. But the Jets’ complained, and all hell broke loose. It cost the organization a first-round draft pick and the owner and ton of money. But mostly it cost the team and the coach a lot of goodwill and gave ammo to the people who were just looking for some way to excuse away their success.
A neutral observer with no dog in the fight might call what Mangini did “whistleblowing” and say he’s to be commended. But I’m not neutral and I don’t have a dog in any fight BUT this one, so to me it was the ultimate in rat-finkery. Mangini had taken the man who made him the success he is and in just over a year on his own, stabbed said mentor right in the lumbar support. And in doing so, he made a very powerful enemy. (Note: I mean Belichick; not me. He made an enemy out of me, but I’m basically shooting blanks here.)
Earlier this year I was a guest on a local suburban radio sports show, and on the phone we got to speak to another turncoat, Mark McGwire’s brother Jay, who was plugging his tell-all book about his more famous, accomplished brother. To prepare for the interview, instead of reading the book, I read “The Inferno” from Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” And by “read,” I mean to say I spent two minutes skimming Dante’s Wikipedia entry.
But what I found confirmed what I’d remembered from college: That the Ninth Circle of Hell, the innermost and therefore the worst, is reserved for those who committed the sin of treachery. As you can imagine it’s a pretty nasty place full of hideous, deformed creatures, haunted by demons and features a lake of ice.
Now I’m not about to suggest Eric Mangini will be damned for eternity over SpyGate. But you’ve got to admit the Ninth Circle sounds an awful lot like Cleveland.
This is why I’m excited about an otherwise lackluster midseason game against a 2-5 non-playoff team with a lame duck coach. Because when you’re a despised but powerful regime like the Patriots, when you’re willing to play outside the rules and do anything to get what you want, you get to carry out vendettas. It’s the kind of fun the so-called Good Guys never get to have.
You never see Dumbledore shooting for revenge. But Voldemort had no sooner gotten his body back than he was gunning for the Boy Who Lived. Capone got to say, “I want you to find this nancy-boy, I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna [bleep] ON HIS ASHES!” Not Elliot Ness.
The Patriots have an Enemies List, there’s no question about it. They’ve used it time and time again to motivate themselves to call a hit on somebody. From Freddie Mitchell to Bill Polian to Anthony Smith and dozens of others. When the Pats feel like they’ve been wronged, they always come at someone hard. And no one has ever been on their Hit List like Ratgini has.
He’s as close to a Fredo as Bill Belichick has ever had. The brother he loved but who sold him out. But it’s been a couple of years now since the two coaches have faced one another. And as a shameless Patriots’ homer, I’m looking forward to seeing Eric Mangini being taken out for a little fishing on Lake Erie Sunday. Because revenge is sweet any time you have it.
Follow Jerry on Twitter @jerrythornton1